The American audience loved, or they found it funny at least. On stage, the deranged, long haired guitarist of the Serious British Band they had come to see was staring into space and detuning his guitar. And nothing else. For an entire song.
For Pink Floyd, it was at least an improvement on what had happened in other shows. Drugs had fucked with guitarist Syd Barrett’s brain to the point where there wasn’t much left, and in several shows he had done nothing but play one chord or none at all. That would be risky behaviour for a member of a punk band; for a prog rock band, where complex solos were currency, it was criminal. It was no better in interviews. In fact, they were often worse. During one he had done nothing but stare at the interviewer.
He was the only person being interviewed.
Unsurprisingly, things came to a head not long after. The rest of the band were on their way to a gig at Southampton University. A member of the band said ‘Shall we pick up Syd?’. They decided not to.
Afterwards, Barett was kept on as a non touring member, but was then ejected from the band completely when he tried to teach the band a song, but kept changing the song as he taught it without telling anyone. The entire scenario is today often described as a ‘mental breakdown’, but it was more of a mental decline – less exciting than a breakdown, but not less catastrophic.
‘Wish You Were Here’ was written about 7 years after Barett’s departure from the band. The entire album (of the same name) is a tribute to him, and is mainly pretentious and self indulgent with some beautiful parts, the exact reverse of Pink Floyd’s best stuff.
The title track is completely different from the rest of the album, however. It doesn’t rely on technical prowess (showboating) to carry the track, or elaborately built dreamscapes. Instead it relies on a relatively austere backing with a strong melody. The melodramatic sentiment of the (and every other Pink Floyd song) song is no lessened by the backing because of the strength of the melody, and so the effect is one of clarity, something which was sadly lacking in Barett’s last working days.